Such a waste of precious lives. What’s being done to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Making international commitments is one thing. Ensuring they are delivered and reflected locally is quite another. That much we know.

Now during the past few weeks, some inspirational remarks were made publicly both locally and internationally. Coming from this nation’s leaders, some of them instill hope, others though demand scrutiny. 

Let’s talk a little bit about them. At the Lowy Institute in Australia for instance, Prime Minister Tuilaepa told the world that climate change posed an “existential challenge” to low lying islands in the Pacific. He demanded that developed countries like Australia needed to reduce pollution in order to address what he described as the biggest challenge of modern time.

“While climate change may be considered a slow onset threat by some in the region, its adverse impacts are already being felt by Island communities,” Tuilaepa said.

He also fired a shot at world leaders who question the existence of climate change.

“We all know the problem, we all know the solutions, and all that is left would be some political courage, some political guts, to tell people of your country there is a certainty of disaster,” Tuilaepa said.

“So any leader of any country who believes that there is no climate change, I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement. He is utterly stupid. And I say the same thing to any leader here.”

Well these are pretty strong words for a leader of any country to say, but then if you know Prime Minister Tuilaepa, you shouldn’t be surprised at all. 

By and large, Prime Minister Tuilaepa hit the nail on the head in relation to the issue of climate change. While he could’ve been wiser in his choice of words, there is no doubt that his message reverberated throughout the region and was widely reported, so that his frustration about the lack of action from some of the biggest countries to address climate change was well and truly felt. Good on him.

Three weeks later, Tuilaepa is back in Samoa. He’s returned to a major tragedy, which has shocked this nation and has sent out shockwaves to the world.  On Monday, one of the worst disasters in recent memory in the history of this country killed three men at Tafua Savai’i. 

Reports tell us that five men working for a brick making company were mining soil from the area when a landslide occurred. All five were buried, only two survived. The deceased men have been identified as 34-year-old Meki Matau of Tafua and Puipa’a, 37-year-old Fogalefatu Tiatia of Gataivai and 42-year-old David Laloata from Tafua. 

A preliminary police investigation has found that the constant mining of the area may have caused the nearby embankment to cave in and bury the workers. 

The theory appears to be supported by a retired Geologist who has alleged that continuous excavation work on the rugged side of a volcano in Savai’i triggered the deadly landslide. In fact Tuapou Warren Jopling said he wasn’t surprised that there was a landslide.

“Simple reason, they were excavating and digging it deep, I think too deep. I’m pretty sure the excavators underwent a problem of trying to cut through the rock face which caused instability,” he said.

Which is what we find ironic.  Let’s accept the fact that a coronial enquiry to investigate the cause of deaths is set to begin on 24 October. We will know a lot more about what led to this tragedy by then.

But it’s hard to ignore the feeling that maybe the lives of these men could have been spared, if some lessons were learnt and best practices were used, in relation to such activities. For example, we know the Tafua area has been the subject of soil mining for the past many years. Did the Government not notice this? What was done about it? 

Speaking of climate change and its impact, did the Government not know that the quarrying, soil and rock mining cause landslides? Did they not know that deforestation, which has been happening all over Samoa, contributes to and exacerbates the impact of climate change?

By the way, the Tafua landslide was not the first in Samoa. In February this year, we all saw the biggest landslide to have occurred in Samoa at Aleipata. It’s a miracle that no one was killed. 

There is no doubt that was triggered by irresponsible soil and rock mining. What was done about that? And did the Government hold anyone to account for what triggered that particular landslide? What about the companies that had been mining the area for years? Are they responsible? 

Could the lessons from Aleipata – if the Government cared to - perhaps have been used to avoid what has now happened at Tafua?

These are questions we need to ask. They are hard questions but necessary. We say this because we see such an apathetic attitude towards the digging and mining of soil and rocks all over Samoa. They are being done at will, with some cases involving major companies, exploiting the Government’s ignorant attitude towards the enforcement of the law.

Let’s be reminded today that three people have died, which is such a waste of precious lives. What guarantee do we have that no more lives will be claimed by such carelessness, especially given the prevalence of cases where irresponsible soil and rock mining is happening in Samoa?

Which brings us back to the point we made earlier about the need to ensure that promises and announcements made internationally are delivered locally.

It’s true that climate is the biggest challenge of our time. We need all the help we can get to fight it.

But looking at a lot of disasters happening, they are man-made. Indeed, it is not climate change that killed those three men in Savai’i. It is the lack of local action and the poor enforcement of laws – if there are any – which allowed it to happen. 

There is more to this of course. When our leaders go off and blast other countries about climate change, they should make sure they do the right thing in Samoa first. 

Think emission, solid waste and pollution. Now think of the growing number of vehicles, many of them not fit for Samoan roads, being dumped here, contributing to the problem of climate change? 

This country is not getting any bigger, if climate change-related developments are anything to go by, it is sinking. Where are all these vehicles going to end up? 

But then perhaps that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?